Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Posts tagged “role

I Am What I Say I Do, Amn’t I?

I’ve got these credentials – a worn tool belt (he can do carpentry!); a doctorate (he’s schmart!); a non-profit (he’s an artiste!); a manuscript (he’s a writer!). Credentials say “I’m qualified.” Credentials say, “Trust me.”

Then there’s that joke – what do you call the worst student out of med school? You call him “Doctor.” (more…)


Artful, Crafty

In theory, there’s not a lot of difference between these words. Except that one implies a certain kind of grace and the other implies a certain kind of cunning.

There are a lot of reasons why I mull over the word ART as much as I do – I don’t harbor the illusion that I’m going to be Changing the Definition. I’ll come up with my own more or less satisfactory take on the word that’ll stick for a few years and that’s it. Merriam-Webster will not come calling. Separate issue.

One of the reasons I do mull it over is the baggage that the word carries around, the idea of transcendence and grace that our Platonic ideal of ART keeps with it like a little cloud on a leash. Named Art. (more…)


Losing Ourselves

“My chair told me I should start dressing more like a professor,” said the grandmaster of my martial arts dojeng. In addition to being an 8th dan in both hapkido and tae kwan do (“Only 7th in hapkido,” he corrected me, “but either one is a can of whoop ass”), he was also a full professor in the law faculty at the university and had written a couple of textbooks. His response to his department chair, “Well, I’m a professor, and this is the way I dress, so professors must dress this way.”

Let’s hear it for syllogisms.

We’re supposed to look a certain way (dress for the occasion) or act a certain way (your age, to name one). When I used to be heavily into academia and would talk about “performing the self,” I got a lot of eye-rolls. “That sounds like bullshit,” was the intimation. Academic gobbledigook.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of academic gobbledigook. A LOT. We are a veritable gobbledigook machine.

The idea of performing the self was sketched out by a Russian named Evreinoff and detailed by an American named Goffman (among others). We have an idea of who we are, and that idea is what we perform. If you’ve ever seen me in a suit, you’ve seen me out of my element. I don’t know how to wear a suit , and you can tell. I am comfortable in jeans and t-shirts with a Leatherman on my belt (for the record: Leatherman vs. Gerber, I don’t care). “People can change,” we hear, and are treated to a conversion story about how the person became someone else – typically a better person. Yes, people can change, but mostly we don’t. Because we rehearse our performances every day of our lives and changing requires a new directorial vision.

RadioLab (a show some folks hate, I grant – I’m not one of them) did a show (it might have been Who Am I?) I podcast while driving out to teach at a suburban university last year about personality. One of the stories was from a woman talking about her mother changed after a stroke, and a neuroscientist they spoke with said, roughly, “Yep, we’re all just a bump on the head away from being someone else.” I was listening to RadioLab again yesterday on my now daily 90 minute commute (it won’t last, I’m happy to say), Numbers, and how we, people, naturally think “logarithmically,” and we learn to count by integers only between 3 and 4, by which they meant, we can repeat the words that stand for numbers, but we only really learn what they mean by 3 or so.

One of the things that came up while I was in graduate school was “aphasia,” which is the process by which people lose language. Linguists interested in language acquisition look at the reverse process for insight, and it turns out that there is a generalized, actual reversal. The hardest sounds to make, for example, are theorized as the ones we learn last. The ones we learn last tend to be the ones we lose first.

I wonder how aphasia plays out with performing yourself. What parts of ourselves go away? To hear Hana talk about her, Lucka never lost anything of herself in her last days. Anthony, meanwhile, between the actual brain tumor and all of the meds he’s stuck on, has what his battery of doctors calls “low affect.” It’s not that his personality isn’t there, but he’s not showing it as much. When does a lack of practice mean a bad performance?

After one surgery a few years ago, Anthony woke up inviting people to call him Tony and interested in football. Neither of those things is “Anthony,” and neither of those things lasted. Where did they come from and where did they go?

For the record, the grandmaster of my martial arts school still occasionally wonders if everything he’s experiencing isn’t actually a delusion and if he’s still lying injured in the mud in Viet Nam.


Multiple Personality Order

I’ve got this friend with brain cancer. He’s had it for going on 10 years now. His wife, as the primary caretaker, has to shift between multiple roles, often several times a day: the worker at her day job, the mom, the bill-payer, the nurse-maid, the housewife.

These labels aren’t simple stereotypes. They are job descriptions, and every time she goes from one to another it requires a certain amount of mental effort. Mostly unremarkable in that we all have to do this everyday – but in regard to her husband’s health, it takes on added significance, pathos, and other words that don’t do the horrible situation justice.

The roles are what I’ve been struggling with lately. Husband, partner, performer, producer, worker. As my wife leaves for another trip, and I leave for Prague a day before she gets back, we’re looking at another three weeks of long distance communication. Which in some ways isn’t so bad, because the farther apart we are, the clearer the roles are. It’s difficult to do a whole lot more on those conversations than be each others’ support. When we’re local to one another, we have to juggle a lot more.

I think that’s why having pets is so satisfying in so many ways. There aren’t that many ways to relate to a dog or a cat. With the dog, I’m the pack leader. With the cats, I’m just the Pinky-with-the-food (and warm lap).

Cats don't let sleeping dogs lie.